Have you ever been in the middle of the roadway and your car breaks down? That really stinks! Your car has to be safely pulled to the side of the road. Then you probably pop your hood and have a look at the engine. Who knows why?
What’s strange is that you do this even if you have no clue how engines work. Perhaps whatever is wrong will be totally obvious. Sooner or later, you have to call someone to tow your car to a garage.
And a picture of the problem only becomes obvious when experts diagnose it. That’s because cars are intricate, there are so many moving parts and computerized software that the symptoms (your car that won’t start) are not enough to inform you as to what’s wrong.
The same thing can occur at times with hearing loss. The cause is not always evident by the symptoms. There’s the usual culprit (noise-related hearing loss), sure. But sometimes, it’s something else, something such as auditory neuropathy.
Auditory neuropathy, what is it?
When most people think about hearing loss, they think of noisy concerts and jet engines, excessive noise that harms your ability to hear. This kind of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss, and it’s somewhat more involved than basic noise damage.
But in some cases, long-term hearing loss can be the result of something other than noise damage. While it’s less common, hearing loss can in some cases be caused by a condition called auditory neuropathy. This is a hearing condition where your ear and inner ear receive sounds just fine, but for some reason, can’t fully convey those sounds to your brain.
Auditory neuropathy symptoms
The symptoms related to auditory neuropathy are, at first look, not all that dissimilar from those symptoms associated with traditional hearing loss. Things like cranking the volume up on your devices and not being able to hear very well in loud environments. That’s why diagnosing auditory neuropathy can be so challenging.
Auditory neuropathy, however, has some specific symptoms that make spotting it easier. When hearing loss symptoms manifest in this way, you can be pretty certain that it’s not typical noise related hearing loss. Though, naturally, you’ll be better served by an official diagnosis from us.
Here are some of the more unique symptoms of auditory neuropathy:
- Sounds seem jumbled or confused: Once again, this isn’t a problem with volume. The volume of what you’re hearing is just fine, the issue is that the sounds seem jumbled and you can’t understand them. This can go beyond the speech and apply to all kinds of sounds around you.
- The inability to distinguish words: Sometimes, you can’t make out what somebody is saying even though the volume is just fine. Words are confused and muddled sounding.
- Sound fades in and out: The volume of sound seems to rise and fall like somebody is messing with the volume knob. This could be a sign that you’re experiencing auditory neuropathy.
What causes auditory neuropathy?
The underlying causes of this disorder can, in part, be explained by its symptoms. On an individual level, the reasons why you may develop auditory neuropathy might not be completely clear. This disorder can develop in both adults and children. And, broadly speaking, there are a couple of well defined possible causes:
- The cilia that transmit signals to the brain can be damaged: Sound can’t be passed to your brain in complete form once these little delicate hairs have been damaged in a specific way.
- Nerve damage: There’s a nerve that transmits sound signals from your inner ear to the hearing center of your brain. The sounds that the brain attempts to “interpret” will seem unclear if there is damage to this nerve. Sounds might seem jumbled or too quiet to hear when this occurs.
Risk factors of auditory neuropathy
No one is really sure why some people will develop auditory neuropathy while others may not. That’s why there isn’t an exact science to preventing it. But you might be at a higher risk of developing auditory neuropathy if you present certain close connections.
Keep in mind that even if you have all of these risk factors you still may or may not experience auditory neuropathy. But the more risk factors present, the higher your statistical likelihood of experiencing this condition.
Risk factors for children
Factors that can raise the risk of auditory neuropathy for children include the following:
- Preterm or premature birth
- An abundance of bilirubin in the blood (bilirubin is a normal byproduct of red blood cell breakdown)
- Other neurological conditions
- Liver conditions that lead to jaundice (a yellow look to the skin)
- A lack of oxygen before labor begins or during birth
- A low birth weight
Risk factors for adults
Here are some auditory neuropathy risk factors for adults:
- Overuse of medications that cause hearing problems
- Immune disorders of various kinds
- Certain infectious diseases, like mumps
- auditory neuropathy and other hearing disorders that are passed on genetically
Minimizing the risks as much as you can is generally a good idea. Scheduling regular screenings with us is a smart plan, particularly if you do have risk factors.
How is auditory neuropathy diagnosed?
During a typical hearing test, you’ll likely be given a pair of headphones and be told to raise your hand when you hear a tone. That test won’t help very much with auditory neuropathy.
Instead, we will usually suggest one of two tests:
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: During the course of this diagnostic test, you’ll have specialized electrodes attached to certain places on your scalp and head. Again, don’t worry, there’s nothing painful or unpleasant about this test. These electrodes place specific emphasis on measuring how your brainwaves respond to sound stimuli. The quality of your brainwave reactions will help us identify whether your hearing problems reside in your outer ear (as with sensorineural hearing loss) or further in (as with auditory neuropathy).
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test: The reaction of your inner ear and cochlea to stimuli will be evaluated with this diagnostic. A tiny microphone is put just inside your ear canal. Then a battery of clicks and tones will be played. The diagnostic device will then evaluate how well your inner ear reacts to those tones and clicks. If the inner ear is a problem, this data will reveal it.
Once we do the appropriate tests, we will be able to more effectively diagnose and treat your auditory neuropathy.
Does auditory neuropathy have any treatments?
So, just like you bring your car to the mechanic to get it fixed, you can bring your ears to us for treatment! In general, there’s no “cure” for auditory neuropathy. But this disorder can be treated in a few possible ways.
- Hearing aids: In some milder cases, hearing aids will be able to provide the necessary sound amplification to help you hear better, even if you have auditory neuropathy. Hearing aids will be an adequate option for some people. Having said that, this is not usually the case, because, once again, volume is almost never the issue. Due to this, hearing aids are frequently coupled with other therapy and treatment options.
- Cochlear implant: For some people, hearing aids won’t be able to get around the issues. In these instances, a cochlear implant may be necessary. This implant, essentially, takes the signals from your inner ear and carries them directly to your brain. The internet has lots of videos of individuals having success with these amazing devices!
- Frequency modulation: In some cases, it’s possible to hear better by increasing or reducing certain frequencies. With a technology called frequency modulation, that’s precisely what occurs. Essentially, highly customized hearing aids are used in this approach.
- Communication skills training: In some situations, any and all of these treatments might be combined with communication skills training. This will let you work with whatever level of hearing you have to communicate better.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better
Getting your disorder treated punctually will, as with any hearing disorder, produce better outcomes.
So it’s important to get your hearing loss treated right away whether it’s the ordinary form or auditory neuropathy. The sooner you schedule an appointment, the more quickly you’ll be able to hear better, and get back to your daily life! Children, who experience a great deal of cognitive growth and development, particularly need to have their hearing treated as soon as possible.